I recently went to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG) with Dawn Barrington as part of a documentary film Music from Manus - 5 days not 5 years.
Dawn is a musician who I knew through working together at Denmark Arts. Dawn had remembered that I dabbled in films and wanted me to film a new music video for her. So we had an afternoon as a trial at Dawn's house, but it seemed a little bit uninspired. So we were going to come back to it once I had found some free time and Dawn had returned from travelling over East for some gigs.
A couple of weeks later, before Dawn went away, we bumped into each other in the street and she mentioned that she was fundraising for a trip to go to Manus Island. She had just started fundraising and asked if I would go with her to film the trip. My current philosophy is to say 'yes' to opportunities/events like this without giving it too much thought, because you never know what can happen, if anything. I was not getting paid for the trip or post-production and was going to take a week off work as holiday. I did not know much about refugees or even where Manus Island was, but I said 'sure'. So off Dawn went to Melbourne, Tasmania and Sydney. Dawn said that it would probably take a while to get the money; we needed around $6,000 for the trip as PNG and flights there are expensive. Before Dawn went away I filmed her at the local Denmark Arts markets and interviewed her for the fundraising page.
But, about a week into the trip, Dawn messaged me to say that she had got the money and that we were going to Manus Island. Dawn, had managed to get most of the money from someone she had met by chance in a coffee shop!
More interviews ensued before we went away, on the journey, and then with the refugees in Port Moresby and on Manus Island. I then did a short film edit as the music video and also as a trailer for the documentary. I then spent a week on the trailer and then thought we would leave it a bit to allow time to reflect on the trip and review the hours and hours of footage. But the response was so good to the trailer and everyone was asking about when the documentary would come out, so we started looking at venues. The only appropriate space and largest venue in town was the Denmark Civic Centre. I was expecting less than 20 people, but then Dawn got onto the publicity...
We hadn't finish the edit when the newspaper came out, but knew we had to get it finished, the sound sorted as best we could, get some better speakers for the event and go for it! It was live music from Dawn, the documentary film which was now around 40 minutes long and then a question and answer session. We had a great crowd, the response and feedback has been very positive and more showings are planned around Australia and beyond.
Dawn has subsequently travelled all over Australia performing and showing the film at small venues and cinemas. The film has also been submitted to film festivals.
The technical aspects of filming on your own on a tropical island should not be underestimated. (If you're not interested in the technical aspects, then check out the other blog post on the Manus Island trip). There is the problem where you might not get a visa to even get into the country, that you are on a tropical island, might have your film confiscated, equipment stolen, there is no useable internet, there are fans or air conditioning going and fridges, you film in hotel rooms, and there are lots of power cuts. No planning, not sure who will turn up, but also you do not want to record every conversation.
Documentaries in some ways are great in that the story is unknown, sets and actors are unknown, but real. I interviewed Dawn Barrington before we went to Manus Island, asking her all the questions I had about refugees and where they live, and what life was like there. Then on our trip we got some of those questions answered, meeting men who had to leave their country and had been brought to Manus where they had been kept for 5 years.
Filming was sometimes with a DSLR in 4k with an onboard mic and separate mic going to an old ipod touch (Rode app), sometimes without the lavalier, sometimes an iPhone with FilmicPro, sometimes inside, sometimes outside, in cars, on planes, in airports, sometimes just sound. The iPhone app FilmicPro was great because you can lock the frame rate, exposure and focus and also perform predefined focus pulls. This was just not possible with the standard iPhone camera app. The iPhoneX also has 2 lenses allowing analogue close-ups and also has image stabilisation. A small iPhone gymbal was used whenever space and time allowed. The DSLR was always shot handheld as there wasn't enough room for either a gimbal or tripod. We were trying to be stealthy and not have too much kit on us - everything had to fit on my back - both for security reasons to take everything of value with us and practical reasons so that everything could go with us no matter the situation.
At the end of every day, the SD cards were copied to the WD Portable drive bought especially for the trip. Copying is automatic, just insert the card and a copy of any new data is taken. Another copy was given to Dawn to store on her laptop and the SD cards were kept. The iPhone had 256GB of storage as well. Apart from filming, we also acquired photos and film from the refugees which again were stored in multiple locations. We couldn't get anything off the island via the Internet as we only had 2g or no-g. Messaging was fine (just), but anything else was either extremely slow or kept dropping out. Therefore we had to try and make sure that everything we captured was safe including protection from tropical rain.
There was around 180GB of film, some of which was in 4k. The majority was in high definition, due to concerns about how much storage 4k required, and also to ease editing. It was a matter of going through the film we captured, syncing the sound if it was dual sound, trying to fix the sound which needed quite a bit of work, colour correction and getting something ready for the showing in around 3 weeks after we got back. I used PluralEyes to sync the sound, keyworded the clips and edited in Final Cut Pro X. The trailer was first put together and uploaded to frame.io for Dawn to look at, comment on and download. Before we went to Manus, we thought anything we captured would be great and were thinking of a film of between 10 and 20 minutes for YouTube.
By the time we got back, we had hours of footage and therefore the final film ended up at the 40 minute mark.
I've not posted for a while on this page. Why? Because I've been busy. I know we're all 'busy'. It's the thing to say/ How's it going? / I'm busy. I know I live in a small town on the south coast of Western Australia. What is there to do? There seems to be lots to do. It's called community. Community is getting involved. Not saying you should, or why don't they, but doing. A lot of people in this small town volunteer. Something I'd never considered when living in London. But small communities seem to thrive and survive on volunteers. So, I volunteer. I've also been studying part time for over 3 years. I've been studying architecture. Something I've always wanted to do since in primary school I choose a book on architecture for a school prize. I did not excel at school and never studied architecture until now. I'm in my last unit for the degree. It's been a struggle and thank my family for supporting me. So, when people say you can't do that, you're too old, or you can't do that as you don't have time, or you make your own excuses, then think again.
As you can.
Come on...get on with it!